Christmas 2018 – Seven Differences

I love Christmas. My husband would tell you that sometimes I go a little too crazy with the cleaning, baking, gift-wrapping and preparations. And he would be right. But the joy of a family gathering together makes it all worthwhile.

Our Christmas was different this year. Very different. In fact, I can think of seven differences right off the top of my head.

img_1460
The ornament that commemorates our first Christmas in 1976

Difference #1 – I didn’t go crazy decorating this year. I put up and decorated our Christmas tree. And that’s it. And I didn’t even hang ALL of the ornaments. No garlands and lights. No wreaths. No candles, or anything else lurking in the bins marked “Christmas” in my storage area. I didn’t even put out Christmas napkins or plates.

And, you know what? I still loved it.

img_1603Difference #2 – Less Sugar. LOTS less sugar. My children and grandchildren have grown accustomed to favorite home-baked cookies and candies being stacked one atop the other in a special set of aluminum stacking trays I inherited from my mother-in-law. Every year each of five layers of trays included our favorites: Snowball cookies, candy cane cookies, chocolate fudge, peppermint patties, and soft ginger cookies dipped in white chocolate.  Eyes would open wide whenever I’d bring the tray full of goodies out of the 3-season porch (our second fridge in the winter). Everyone knew yumminess was contained within those five layers.

This year, we’re all more conscious of sugar and what too much sugar can do to the body. I made one sweet treat and skipped baking Christmas cookies (with the exception of a batch of gluten-free snowball cookies for my hubby). There also weren’t candy dishes throughout the house filled with M&M’s and chocolate candies.

We still enjoyed Christmas – sans the sugar high.

img_1547
A back pack – Miss V’s all too grown up gift choice prompts her beautiful smile

Difference #3 – The guests. The people gathered were a sweet mix of family and friends. Our daughter and her family were part of the usual cast of characters at our celebration, but our son and his family could not come because they were using this time off of work and school to go on a family vacation. This year our gathering included our new friends and adopted family of the heart Herim and Waldely, and their sweet daughters Fabiana and Alexa. If that weren’t blessing enough, as a bonus, our celebration also included Herim’s visiting cousin Anna and Anna’s nephew Luigi.

In addition to hearing a lot of Spanish floating around the room, our little family relished spending time with our new friends as they shared with us more about their country of birth, Venezuela. We learned about the similarities and differences in customs, and laughed together over the cultural differences that one stumbles upon when being immersed in the language and traditions of the United States. Waldely shared the humor she found when Americans are introduced to a new food  they don’t particularly like. We don’t just come out and say, “I don’t like it.” With a little raise of our eyebrows, we say, “Mmmm…interesting.”

I only wish I had taken pictures!!

Difference #4 – The meal. It was an early lunch, rather than an evening meal together to accommodate everyone’s schedules for the rest of the day. It was rather simple fare with ham and cheese sliders on the menu, rather than the egg-laden brunch casserole I had originally planned. There were a few equally simple go-withs such as deviled eggs, a little fruit tray, a few cut-up veggies with dip, potato chips, pickles/olives, and the like. Waldely added quesillo, a delicious traditional Venezuelan flan to our buffet spread. Oh, so yummy! Estaba delicioso!

GF Wisconsin Buns

Difference #5 – Gluten Free Options. In our family, we traditionally enjoy what we call “Wisconsin Buns” on Christmas Eve.  It’s a recipe handed down to me by my mother-in-love.  She made it almost weekly in their family, but I reserve making this special (highly calorific and very bad for you) “coffee cake” for Christmas Eve morning (and will also make it as the birthday treat for any family member who requests it). This year I also made up an experimental batch of gluten-free Wisconsin Buns. Not the same by any stretch of the imagination, but a surprisingly tasty alternative treat for my husband, who now finds allergies to be a daily struggle.

img_1562
Papa helping Charlie crack open his gift – new geodes

Difference #6 – The shopping. All of our shopping was done by Wayne on-line this year – mostly via Amazon. No trudging around in malls. No being tempted by impulse purchases placed strategically at every check-out line. The kids and grandkids made lists on their wish-lists and the purchased gifts came to our door only needing to be wrapped. I love watching the faces of each grandchild as they open a gift they really wanted.

Christmas + 3 grandsons = LOTS of Legos

Difference #7 – Momma was here, but absent. Though our house was full of people laughing and the sounds of children playing, Momma pretty much missed all of the Christmas activity as she retreated to her room and slept throughout the day. Last year she was able to join us in the family room and watch in delight as her great-grandchildren opened gifts. This year, Alzheimer’s has noticeably taken away her delight in all things social. Her inability to participate in our celebration was a little sad. In spite of that, I’m glad her number on the wait-list hasn’t come up at the memory care facility we have reserved for her. It brought me peace of mind being able to peek in on her in our home.

If Momma had a wish-list for next year’s Christmas gift, heaven would be at the very top of her list. No more tears or confusion. No more memory problems. No more excruciating knee problems. And together with her Lord and Savior FOREVER!

Now, wouldn’t THAT be an AWESOME Christmas?

Photos – Preserving My Family Story

Baby Charlotte Louise Peet
My mother as an infant in 1934

Nearly three years ago, several large Rubbermaid bins filled with photo albums, loose photos, pictures in envelopes, boxes and tins made the move along with my mother from Milwaukee to Fitchburg. As time and energy allows, I am sorting through these photos – some of them from several generations before hers. Though it slows my progress a bit, Momma enjoys flipping through the photos and “helping” me sort them too.

Photos of mom’s childhood and early adult years will sometimes prompt a story or two. Alzheimer’s keeps her from remembering the name of the city where she had lived for the past 60 years, or even what she had for lunch, but she can remember the names of aunts and uncles she hasn’t seen in years, along with a few of the details of events from her childhood. Continue reading “Photos – Preserving My Family Story”

Thanksgiving and Old Photos

Our son Matt and his family are hosting our family’s Thanksgiving celebration this year. This is the second year they’ve hosted us in their splendid home set on the bluffs of the Mississippi River in Hampton, Illinois. I enjoy helping out in their spacious and well-appointed kitchen.

I am thankful my sister is hanging out with mom so Wayne and I can get away from the responsibilities of caregiving for a few days.

What a blessing. God bless her.

On Sunday my daughter mentioned she is bringing the pies…lots of pies. I hear there will be pumpkin, French Silk, and chocolate pecan. On Monday she stopped by my house to borrow a few extra pie plates and Tupperware pie carriers.

Lord, help me.

Knowing Beth will be the bearer of pies made me wonder what I would be bringing. Other than an email asking for my stuffing recipe, I hadn’t heard whether I should bring anything. I sent my son a text which read

Did I miss a memo on what to bring for Thanksgiving?

His reply –

Just yourselves! 🙂

Wow! Another life change happened when I wasn’t looking. Not cooking anything for Thanksgiving?

When did that happen?

Wasn’t it just yesterday that THIS happened?

I found these photos while working on a long overdue project of creating some family photo albums. Matt must have been 4 years old and Beth almost 2, so it must be 1981.

I love everything about these memory evoking photos. The teeny tiny kitchen in our first house on 49th Street. The hand-me-down kitchen table and chairs from my in-laws. The 1950’s wallpaper. The orange tiles on the kitchen floor. Our tiny refrigerator barely had room for the turkey to thaw.

At the corner of one photo I spied the shelving Wayne custom built for our itty-bitty kitchen. The shelf now has a couple of coats of blue paint on it and sits in a place of honor on our three-season porch holding memorabilia of years past. As I examine the photo below more carefully, I see on one shelf a turtle cookie jar (I used to collect turtles), which I have since passed along to my son.

Thirty-seven years later, I still use that very same turkey roasting pan…and the brown-striped kitchen towel!

I love Matt’s facial expression as he examined his messy little hand after helping stuff the turkey. I think we need to recreate this photo.

This helper will be preparing our Thanksgiving turkey this year.

And my little blonde sweetheart Beth! Look at the cherubic face of my little helper. Be still my heart!

My little helper now has four helpers of her own.

These old photos have taught me the importance of capturing images of special moments we have together as a family. Tomorrow we will have Matt and Beth and their families gathered together in one place.

And I will have a camera.

 

 

Henry’s Basilisk Birthday Cake

We recently celebrated our grandson Henry’s eighth birthday. I haven’t a doubt in the world that he has already begun planning what his ninth birthday cake will look like and what should be on next year’s birthday gift list.

My daughter described her boy so very well on her Facebook post commemorating her second son’s birth.

“This kid will start a conversation with a stranger with “Do you want to learn about me?” He refuses to let a bee sting slow down his fun. He crosses his eyes in his school portrait just to make people laugh. He’s always thinking about something grand. He has my heart. Happy birthday, Henry!”

He has his Grandma Cindie’s heart too.

Henry snuggled up to me on the sofa at our family Thanksgiving gathering with a special request. He wanted US to decorate his birthday cake together. This boy always has a plan.

“We’ll have mommy bake the cake, ‘cuz her cakes taste good,” then gushed with great anticipation, “and I will help you decorate it because you make the cakes look good.”

How could a grandma refuse?

Henry further informed me of his grand plan. He wanted a “basilisk” cake, then told me everything he knew about basilisk lizards. It’s a good thing that this boy is a walking encyclopedia when it comes to anything reptilian because I had NO IDEA what a basilisk was. Henry and I poked around a little bit on Google so he could show his less than informed Grandma Cindie what one looked like. I didn’t know there were basilisk snakes (of Harry Potter mythology, of course) and basilisk lizards. Henry assured me he wanted the lizard variety. “It’s cool, Grandma! It can run on water.” (Click here if you’re even remotely interested in learning more about basilisks.)

Yes, that is pretty cool. And a pretty ambitious decorating feat for the two of us. I am by no means a professional cake decorator but willingly spend an entire day trying to come up with whatever a beloved grandchild dreams up.

We were up to the baking and decorating challenge.

I ended up baking the cake using my daughter’s recipe, baking up three chocolate 8″ layers to hopefully carve up and assemble into something that resembled a lizard…a basilisk in particular. My hubby helped me shop for a few of the details we would need, per Henry’s ideas, like orange M&M candies to make the eyes and animal crackers to crush and use for making the sand the basilisk would be crawling on.

As his mommy said, “He’s always thinking about something grand.”

In preparation for our big lizard making day, I poked around on Pinterest for a few ideas as to how to create something that resembled a lizard. I baked the three layers of cake ahead of time, then made up some delicious chocolate cream cheese buttercream frosting. I cut one of the cake layers in half and “glued” the two halves together with froting to make the body of the lizard, using this dragon cake as a general guide. I wrapped the body and the remaining cake layers in wax paper, then slid them into freezer bags and placed them in the freezer. Several Pinterest reviewers suggested this step of freezing the cake would make carving the cake and frosting the cut sides of the cake a little easier (it was a good idea).

Dragon cake - naked
Idea and photo credit: http://www.dinnerwithjulie.com/2010/08/07/chocolate-dragon-cake/

We would celebrate Henry’s birthday on the Saturday which followed his official birth date. Henry would come over in the morning after breakfast. We’d work on constructing his cake throughout the morning, Papa would take him out to lunch (so grandma could do parts of the construction that were better done without the help of an 8-year-old), then we would resume decorating the (hopefully) lizardy-looking creation during the afternoon. All of this in anticipation of a family celebration of his birthday with pancakes for supper (his request) followed by his special birthday cake and presents.

We had fun together. I’m not sure that we ended up with the basilisk of his imagination, but one thing was clear. No matter how it turned out, Henry would love it because he had worked on it with me. Several heartwarming times throughout our day together Henry told me he loved me.

As we worked side by side, at one point Henry asked me if we had bought a birthday present for him. Before I could answer, he quickly added, “It’s okay if you didn’t because making this cake with you today is like the best present ever already!”

My heart smiled.

I assured him we had a present for him too then teasingly asked, “Do you want me to take your present back?” Eyes wide open he wagged his head an emphatic no.

Making Animal Cracker Sand

The first task for Henry was to crush the animal crackers to create the sand that would be used later in the decorating phase. As he rolled over the crackers with the rolling pin, he retold the family story of how he would squirrel away animal crackers under the cushion of his highchair so he could help himself to a treat when Mommy said no to his request.

We laughed together.

Next step was for Henry to carve the tail out of one of the layers of cake. We made it fatter than a real basilisk’s tail because nobody would want a piece of cake that skinny. Henry deemed it the perfect lizard tail. I popped that tail back into the freezer while we worked on carving the legs and head and crown-thingy (the crest, I think) out of cake. Henry let me do most of that carving, adding ample praise as I worked.

Tail-carving time

Henry told me about his best friends at school.

It was lunch time. Papa took Henry out for lunch so I could pay attention to my mom’s needs. Momma has Alzheimer’s. I had worried that she would not cooperate, as she can be a handful on one of her bad days. Thankfully, she had rather enjoyed watching us work at the kitchen table together.

While Henry and Papa were enjoying cheeseburgers at Culver’s, I put the lizard head together and affixed it and the tail to the body with more frosting. Returning from their guys’ lunch together, Henry was super excited to see what had been accomplished in the construction phase, and we set ourselves to work creating a cross-section of a tree for the lizard to climb. We stuck the lizardy-looking parts in the freezer again while we worked together to create tree rings and bark out of chocolate frosting.

Next came the hard part. Frosting the little guy. I made a batch of cream cheese buttercream frosting without chocolate. I reserved a little plain white, then tinted the remaining frosting in a few shades of green. We propped Mr. Basilisk on the log, then added legs and started frosting with a crumb coat of green. (Freezing the cake greatly helped keep the cut edges under control, as did using a frosting spreader dipped in warm water.) Once he was thoroughly crumb coated, we started piping on frosting, smoothing here, adding “scales” there, shoving bits of leftover cake and frosting into gaps, and chatting as we worked.

Henry added the orange M&M eyes and was happy with how it looked. Basilisks also have white dots that run down their sides. Henry carefully added  white chocolate chips for the bigger dots and then and dotted white cupcake sprinkles in just the right places to make the little ones.

While he worked on those details (and snitched a few white chocolate chips), I melted some of the white chocolate, then tinted part of it green and part of it orange (took a little artistic liberty on that color). I piped this onto wax paper to create the  arched fin-like crest that continues along its back and tail. After the melted chocolate hardened off on my chilly back porch, we peeled it off of the wax paper and added those fun details to his birthday cake.

The birthday boy’s eyes lit up. He had one word to describe our creation.

“Awesome!”

That’s the same word I used to describe my day with the birthday boy.